Christmas Lights: A Holiday Card To You

Christmas Lights

When we moved into our house this past summer one of the first things out of my wife, Ashley’s mouth was an enthusiastic remark about being able to put up Christmas lights.

Ah, come on people. As if it wasn’t already bad enough that I needed a lawnmower and had to keep straight the trash pickup days. Now another article in the unconditional terms of the Suburban Surrender Treaty was being stipulated for me to accept. Calculating the cost of an extension ladder required to reach the roof’s overhang prompted the reminder that I would have to clean the gutters on a regular basis too.

“Hey, there’s already hooks for you to use,” my stepdaughter Allie said pointing toward the front entry.

My head immediately dropped, a response that's practically become a reflex for me anymore.

House or no house, stringing up Christmas lights never ranked high on my lifetime list of domestic to-do’s. As a boy growing up, I don’t recall my family doing much exterior decorating for the holidays, at least not beyond a traditional, hand-made wreath constructed from ground pine from the nearby woods. At some point later on, my mother started placing a solitary plastic candle in each of the windows, but then she’d leave them up year round, so technically speaking these don’t qualify as Christmas lights.

In any case, the annual hanging of holiday lights just wasn’t that important to us and thus, never earned a spot among the pantheon of our family’s regular holiday traditions. In the off chance my sisters or I did raise the issue, however, our parents’ standard response was to challenge us with the moral dilemma of should they spend money on flashy lights and cartoon reindeer or on our gifts. End of discussion.

I have now adopted this pat comeback whenever my stepdaughters ask me the same thing. It’s enough to silence them for the moment, but yet it fails to deter their long-term persistence, especially Allie who is becoming quite the master of passive aggressive behavior as evidenced by the long, doleful sighs she lets out as we drive through the neighborhood.

Meanwhile the residents in our community appear to be on some sort of mission from God in their attempt to celebrate the Christ child’s birth by taking down the city’s power grid. In other words, these mega-watt, burnt offerings serve as the ultimate reminder for Allie and her high need for keeping up with the Joneses …and the Smiths …and the Gomezes. It’s become so annoying that I’ve started zigzagging along a harrowing eighteen-mile route through our subdivision just to avoid the gaudiest and most extravagant yuletide yard displays. A ten foot snow globe with Santa on a motorcycle and psychedelic laser lights? Really?! Where do people get this stuff? Baby Jesus would be so proud.

I forget, though, that simple acts like transforming your house into the facade of a Las Vegas casino in a humble show of the Christmas spirit represent different things for Allie and me. In my mind, stringing up blinking lights and then syncing them to the power-charged stylings of Mannheim Steamroller signals another blow to my cosmopolitan elitism by the hands of suburban conformity. To Allie, however, this is how life was intended to be. It’s the life she dreams of.

For an eight year-old, Allie has endured more upheaval than any kid should at that age. The safety of the world Allie knew as a toddler was shattered when her parents divorced. She’s had to move from apartment to apartment about fifty times, and the only consistent aspect of her experiences has been the inconsistency of it, a sad fact that also includes the failures by some of the people she’s needed most to be there for her, namely her biological father who possess a chronic aversion to committing to his paternal role.

Deep inside, Allie knows this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Little girls are supposed to live houses and wake up in their own bedroom. They’re supposed to have friends at school and be in gymnastics and have regular evening meals with a mom and a dad sitting at the table. They’re supposed to sip on hot cocoa and listen to holiday music as they open gifts on Christmas morning. And they’re supposed to have lights.

Despite my bah-humbug attitude, I understand Allie’s need for the life that’s supposed to be, and so, a few weekends ago, I rummaged through the disaster that is my garage, hoping to scrounge up a set of working lights left over from my and Ashley’s wedding reception. The tangled bunch I managed to fine were nothing special, just the plain white ones with short strands that dangle freely in a fashion meant to imitate hanging icicles. By comparison they were a paltry at best, and as I finished fastening them to the pre-set hooks Allie had noticed months earlier, a slight feeling of guilt came over me. I wished I could afford to hang more. 

Then I heard the front door open. It was Allie. I had asked my wife earlier to keep Allie preoccupied because I wanted to surprise her, but apparently my stepdaughter had seen me through the window and came to investigate. Now she stood in the doorway, rocking back and forth on her bare feet, a smile on her face. 

I folded my arms and signaled upward with my eyes. “Well, goofball, what do you think?”

Allie didn’t say a word. Instead, she wrapped her arms around my waist and hugged me …the way families are supposed to. 


On behalf of my entire family I'd like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. We hope you enjoyed our little Christmas card video. We'd also like to wish you a Happy New Year as this will be the Lunchbox's last post for 2010.

I'll be taking a blogging holiday until the middle of January 2011, when Clark Kent's Lunchbox will return with a whole new look while also taking an whole new approach in content. Until then, see ya.

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